Propane at the Table

The over-abundance of consumer outlets has made us complacent and, worse, dependent. With just-in-time management then consumers only acquire what they need at the moment that they need it. This is fine as long as the producer always ships their product and the supply line never fails. Given the current strength of the system then it’s no wonder that we’ve assumed a continual supply.

Yet, how about when it fail? For instance, a recent labour issue prevented the supply of propane to farms. Perhaps you didn’t know that farmers needed propane to dry their crop. So, when trains stopped and the shipments of propane failed, only days later the farmers worried about the loss of their harvest. Turns out that over 27 rail cars, or 9e13Joules of energy were needed every day for one large region affected by the strike. While the strike was resolved before the crops were ruined, this example does highlight the potential severe effects when the supply line fails.

Let’s now consider the other failure. The failure of the production. With this, then no matter how strong a supply line, there will be a failure of delivery by the consumer outlet. And all downstream producers will be negatively affected. And consumers will be without. This image not to your liking? Contact me and I can optimize your potential.

Lunch in the sun

Energy to Share

Our Sun is a great, big fusion reactor that combines atoms and strews out radiation in all directions. The radiation amounts to about 172 petawatts or about 5.4E24 Joules of energy at Earth’s upper atmosphere. While this is a huge amount, most of it gets re-radiated back into space. Luckily for life on Earth, the amount coming in usually equals the amount going back out; that is, there is energy balance so the Sun doesn’t fry the Earth.

Life makes the Earth unique from Mars, Venus and other worlds of our Solar System. Life has learned to absorb the energy from the Sun and use it to its own advantage. Photosynthesis gets credit for absorbing about 3E21 Joules a year. This is a tiny amount given the total. But a very important amount given the need to maintain a balance.

Over the last couple of hundred years, humans learnt to use a lot of energy. Almost a fifth that of all the plants or 5.4E20 Joules a year.  This is a chronic change that has put energy out of balance.  We’re using stores of energy in oil, coal and natural gas. Once they’re gone then what? Do we take the energy from the plants in some contrived sharing arrangement? Do we use less? Or do we take all? What’s your preference?

Along the river


A fundamental expectation for a family is to live in their own home. People want and need a safe, secure place to raise their young, as with most animals. Often one hears the phrase ‘four walls and a roof’ as the mantra for starting families.

While a home can consist of a huge variety of shapes and forms, one thing is common; the starting family prefers a brand new home. This is quite reasonable as often their parents live in their birth home and often with other family members. Let’s consider the consequences. The starting family’s new home obviously entails a large amount of energy and material to construct. Once constructed, it requires energy and material to maintain. Globally about 36% of a $17T construction industry is residential. Assume that the global GDP is on the order of $80T. Thus homes or residences contribute almost 8% to this; a strong indicator of the effort going into homes. And with the human population ever increasing then the number of homes also continues to increase.

How will this desire for a new home play out? There are over 7 billion people on Earth. And many more to come. If on average a family has 6 people in a home then this population needs over 1 billion homes. A current estimate puts the value at 1.6 billion households. A well maintained home can last for 50 years. Thus, every 50 years we will need to expand energy and resources, i.e. maintain the construction industry to rebuild 1.6 billion homes. And make and maintain new ones for the ever expanding population. Can the Earth support this? Will there be enough energy available to maintain and grow this?

Energy poor

Akademik Lomonosov

Fire! Controlling this wonderful, exothermic, chemical reaction enabled humans to vault over all lifeforms and become dominant on planet Earth. Some argue that our ancestors had control of fire over a million years ago. Not quite as long ago, we learned to use similar chemical reactions to access the energy stored in fossil fuels like petroleum. Very recently, we learned to split large atoms into smaller ones via controlled nuclear reactions. And we used the resulting energy release to further our domination on Earth.

With nuclear energy, we have controlled, ready access to very, very large amounts of energy. We’ve built large nuclear power reactors beside many population centres for this very reason. We also build floating reactors to bring accessible energy to demanding places. For almost ten years MH-1A supplied 10MWe to the Panama Canal Zone. Now, the floating Akademik Lomonosov ($232M), a brand new endeavour, will provide a similar service in that it can use nuclear fission to provide 70MWe to whichever port it is alongside. Currently it’s slated to replace the Bilibino nuclear reactor (164.8GW.h) nearby Pevek (65°N,170°E).

We recognize that our civilization needs energy to progress. Actually, we need very large amounts of readily accessible energy simply to sustain ourselves as the Akademik Lomonosov demonstrates. Over the last few decades, and centuries, we’ve become accustomed to consuming ever more readily accessible and cost efficient energy. But quantities of fossil fuels and of nuclear fuel are limited on Earth. What becomes of our civilization if the consumption trend continues but the energy supplies fail? Can we rely upon fire to maintain our civilization?

Moscow Times
Akademik Lomonosov

Bucket List

The lucky young have their whole lives ahead of them. They can dream of adventures and plan for them in the future. Great times. However, as we age and we realize that there are only a limited number of days before we are too old to travel then planning becomes serious. Often we create a Bucket List; a list of things we want to do before we die. Many, if not all, items on the list consist of travel. To be a tourist. That’s lucky.

Tourism has become quite an industry. One source has it generating $7.6trillion in 2014. Close to 10% of global GDP. Another sources sets international tourist arrivals at 1.4 billion in 2018; that’s about 20% of the global population. Tourism generates 319 million jobs world wide; that’s about 10% of the estimated global employment. All told, tourism is expansive and growing.

Now let’s appreciate what tourism is all about. Tourism is leisure. Tourism is neither a necessity nor a right. We don’t need to be a tourist to survive. Tourism is a luxury. And after all, a Bucket List is all about ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs’. Now what does this ‘want’ cost us in energy? Let’s draw a direct comparison between energy and money. Therefor, if tourism uses 10% of GDP then we claim that it uses 10% of global annual energy usage. This amounts to 5.67e19 Joules which is almost equal to the world’s total electrical energy consumption. Think about it. We are effectively allocating all of world’s electrical production to tourism.

If the supply of clean, useful energy was limitless then using a good portion of it for leisure doesn’t represent a problem. And today, with little concern for energy future’s there seems to be little concern about how we allocate its usage. But what happens when the supply of energy diminishes? How should we discriminate between needs and wants? Are we ready to remove items from our Bucket List so that future generations can prosper?